SENECA – What year is this?
I thought I was covering the 2013 Seneca football team Saturday afternoon, but given the number of faces in the crowd that graduated around the time I did (2002), you could have sold me on it being a game from a decade ago. Well, you could have had my peers not aged (some more gracefully than others) so much since high school.
The first Fighting Irish playoff game in 12 years brought out people my age, many of whom were members of that 2001 team. It brought out older fans who hadn’t been to a game in a long time. It brought out the young – some of whom saw their first game involving the local high school. It drew the largest, loudest and best crowd – and a lot of that’s a credit to the nice gathering on the Kewanee side – that I can remember at a Seneca football game.
“It was great,” Seneca co-captain Austin Applebee said. “Fans were all behind us and everything, stomping their feet. That built us up.”
The atmosphere would have been less enjoyable for the Irish had the game been a disappointment. It wasn’t. Down 21-14 with less than a minute to play, Kewanee got nine yards from scoring a touchdown. I don’t know Kewanee coach Tyler Nichols beyond a brief phone conversation we had last week, but I’m guessing he’d have gone for two had his team scored. The Boilermakers had already missed an extra point, and converted a two-point try earlier in the game.
Irish running back Tommy Lovett said the team fed off the energy of the crowd.
“I had a good feeling once I knew how many fans were coming,” Lovett said. “I knew how many people believed in us, and I think that kind of gave us a big boost and we just played our game that we should have played.”
One of the alums had a more direct impact on the Irish. In full disclosure, I graduated with Jason Baker and we were classmates and buddies throughout our childhoods, but I feel I have to share this anecdote from Irish head coach Ted O’Boyle.
“[Seneca assistant] Coach [Dan] Baker’s brother, Jason Baker, came up from Florida and gave a heck of a pregame speech to our guys. That was pretty special,” O’Boyle said. “I’m just happy our kids got to experience a playoff game, now a win. It’s just fun now. Now we know we can play kind of carefree and loose and we have nothing to lose.”
The road to this point was a long one for the Irish. In the last 13 months, they’ve ended droughts of 11 years without a winning season, 12 years without a playoff berth and 13 years without a playoff win. During that time, Seneca once lost 32 straight games.
“I think we owe this win to the 12 years of kids that didn’t get to experience playoffs and wins,” O’Boyle said. “Those guys, I know, still root for the program. We had a great crowd here today. That one’s for those guys.”